Need to wean energy producers off of government support.

There has been a recent outpouring of letters to the editor and paid advertising in The Des Moines Register thanking President Trump for the EPA’s decision to allow E15 (gasoline with 15% ethanol) to be used year round.  Many go on complain about the hardship waivers being granted to small refineries that exempt them from being forced to add ethanol to their gasoline under the Renewal Fuel Standard (RFS).  They say the exemptions are costing corn farmers and ethanol producers billions of dollars and are undermining growth of the ethanol industry.
Since 2006, the RFS has required petroleum refiniries to add more and more ethanol to gasoline.  (For 2019 the requirement is over 19 billion gallons.)  Investment in and growth of the ethanol industry (and related corn purchases) have been greatly dependent on this use of government force.  After 13 years, the industry has billions of dollars invested in over 200 production facilities, revenues of over $16 billion per year.  Any yet, not only can it not wean itself off of government assistance, it continues to press government for more and more support.
Public Choice Theory tells us what to expect when government and special interests create an artificial market using government force.   As investment and revenues reach billions of dollars, vested interests easily justify spending millions of dollars lobbying Congress to make sure the support continues.  At the same time, each taxpayer pays such a relatively small amount that it is very difficult to raise money to lobby in opposition to these government programs.
But we must do what we can, so now is the time to urge Presidential candidates as well as elected representatives to work toward ending government subsidies and special support for all forms of energy.
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No need to be energy independent.

In a letter to the Des Moines Register today, 6/24/2015, Jacob Hession advocated for American energy independence and for the renewable energy Production Tax Credit.
We need to be energy independent just like we need to be food independent, clothing independent, pharmaceutical independent, electronics independent… – that is, we don’t need to be independent.
World-wide free market capitalism is a wonderful thing. It gives us a more varied and consistent supply of pretty much everything we need or want. If there is a shortage of anything anywhere around the world, there are people in other parts of the world who will rush to supply what is needed.  Shortages mostly occur where trade is restricted and protected.
Any call for for a certain type of “independence” or “security” is usually cover for special interests who will benefit if we protect them from competition or give them special benefits.
What we really need to do is end special protections and subsidies for all forms of energy.  Free market capitalism has done more to provide for the security and dependability of the supply all types of products than any scheme devised by government.
LInk to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/readers/2015/06/24/renewable-energy-hession/29196411/

Carbon tax – don’t forget about ethanol and bio-diesel.

In his essay in The Des Moines Sunday Register (10/5/2014), Richard Doak used the example of British Columbia (BC) as a regional government that has gone out on its own and instituted a carbon tax.  He wrote that the carbon tax as been a success.  The revenue neutral tax has allowed BC to reduce personal and corporate income taxes to quite low levels.  He reported that in BC, “Economic growth is slightly better than the rest of Canada…”
He asked, “Why can’t Iowa be like that?”  Throughout the essay, Doak talked about taxing “fossil fuels”.  What he did not talk about was that fact that the BC carbon tax applies to ethanol and bio-diesel, because both contain carbon that is released into the atmosphere when burned.
When all aspects of production are considered, there is still a question about which fule, gasoline or ethanol, puts more carbon into the atmosphere.  At the time of combustion, ethanol puts about one third less carbon into the atmosphere than gasoline.  So, to the extent that there is discussion in Iowa or the U.S. about a carbon tax, the tax on ethanol should  be about two-thirds of the tax on gasoline.  It should not be zero.
Doak also talks about replacing the gasoline tax with a carbon tax to fund road building and maintenance.  He make the point that a tax on coal and natural gas, used to make electricity, will make users of electric cars pay their share for roads.  In almost any scenario of the future, electric cars will use a very small fraction of the total electricity output and will not come close to paying their fair share of road use.  Most of the cost of a carbon tax on coal and natural gas will be paid by households and businesses.  Doak is right that roads should be financed by users, but a carbon tax is not a good solution.
Link to Register article: http://www.desmoinesregister.com/story/opinion/columnists/iowa-view/2014/10/04/richard-doax-climate-change/16747421/

Income inequality is not the problem.

Income inequality is not a problem in and of itself.  As long a people earn their income through honest, peaceful and voluntary exchange, then there is no moral reason for our government to redistribute that wealth.  What is a problem is when government places its thumb on the scale and unfairly helps the rich to get richer, or hurts the poor and makes them poorer.  To the extent that a person gains wealth by unequal preferential treatment by government, it is morally correct for government to use its force to take away that wealth.

One good example of the many unfair government policies that wrongly favor the rich is the special low income tax rate on “carried interest” income earned by hedge fund managers.  They call it carried interest, but it is nothing more than a bonus based on performance.   In any other situation, this type of income is taxed at regular income tax rates. Somehow, hedge fund managers have sold politicians on the idea that carried interest is a special kind of income that should be taxed at lower rates.  Another example is the Oil Depletion Allowance for oil companies.  Another is farm subsidies for rich farmers.  We do not need to raise tax rates on ordinary income, we do need to do away with the unfair preferences, tax breaks, and subsidies that go mostly to the wealthy.

A good example of government policy that hurts poor people is that of keeping interest rates low in order to prop up housing prices.  If housing prices had been allowed to fall to their free market levels, housing would be much more affordable for poor people.  Instead, our government tries to fix the problem that it helped to create (unaffordable housing) by giving rent subsidies to the poor – creating more dependency on government, but not fixing the underlying causes of the problem.

To misquote Walter Scott, “Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to use our government to achieve social goals.”  The solution to many of our economic problems today is to reduce the size and scope of our government.  Many unfair crony capitalist subsidies and tax breaks exist because our government has expanded far beyond its Constitutionally limited powers.  The primary just powers of government are to protect our lives, liberty and property; and to resolve disputes.  The scope and powers of our current federal government are clearly way beyond the limited government that our founding fathers created.  Lets start by closing unfair tax breaks and lowering spending to match.

Ethanol credit speculation – for dummies

Speculators are being blamed for increases in ethanol RIN credits!  Renewable Identification Number (RIN) credits are issued to manufacturers for every gallon of ethanol that they blend into gasoline.  All manufacturers are required to meet targets for blending ethanol into their gasoline – in order to meet national Renewable Fuels Standards.  If they fail to meet their targets, they have to pay substantial penalties.  Some manufacturers exceed their targets so they have excess credits that they are allowed to sell.  Others fail to meet their targets and either have to purchase credits from other manufacturers or pay the penalties.  If, for the entire market, it appears there will be a shortage then the price of the credits will go up.  If it were possible for a few speculators to “corner the market”, then they might be able to hold out for higher prices.  But, the there were truly a shortage, then manufacturers who have excess credits could just as easily do the same.  In either case, this puts pressure on manufacturers to blend more ethanol.  If there is a shortage of ethanol, then the price of ethanol should rise.  If the price of ethanol rises than ethanol producers will try to increase their production to capture more profit.  In any case, the credits are doing what they are supposed to do: reward manufacturers who blend excess gallons and penalize those who blend less than their target.  If the entire market is below the target, then there will be incentives to produce more ethanol.  Speculators help the market to work as it was intended.  The real problem here is the entire Renewable Fuel Standards that uses force, in the form of money penalties, to make everyone use more ethanol than they would in a voluntary market.  This is a classic case of unintended consequences that occurs when people discover, as Friedrich Hayek wrote, “…how little they know about what they imagine they can design.”

Go ahead with Sequestration cuts

Maybe it would be best to let the Sequestration spending cuts to take effect.  It appears that elected politicians are unable to make significant cuts to any specific federal spending items.
If cuts could be prioritized, here would be my short list in order of priority:
  • The Medicare eligibility age should be coupled with Social Security and they both should be gradually moved to age 70.  The federal government should not be responsible to pay for 15 – 30 years of retirement for healthy adults.  (see below)
  • Freeze the dollar amount of federal spending on Medicaid – block grant the money to the states and let States decide on the priorities.  There will always be more demand than there is supply for free medical care.
  • Cut military spending, in actual dollars, by at least 5%.  Let the defense department decide on priorities to give us the best defense that the budget can buy.  We would still have greatest defense on Earth.
  • Eliminate the Dept. of Education – leave education to the states entirely.
  • Limit farm subsidies to $50,000 per farmer maximum, $100,000 per family maximum.  Phase out all subsidies for farmers who have a Adjusted Gross Income between $100,000 and $200,000.  Require 100% of the cost of crop insurance to be charged to the farmers.  Why do we keep paying subsidies to farmers when they have record profits?  Something is wrong.
  • Cut the FEMA budget by 50%, and make States pay a 50% co-insurance payment for all federal money that flows into any State.  States would be much more efficient, and there would be much less abuse and fraud.
  • Eliminate subsidies and special tax breaks for all forms of energy.  All energy producers fight to protect their subsidies by claiming that the other forms of energy get subsidies and all they want is a fair playing field.  Well, lets make the playing field very fair – no subsidies for anyone.
  • Eliminate spending on arts, and humanities, public broadcasting, etc.  Contributions to these kinds of organizations should be left to charitable organizations.

I’m sure the list would be different and much larger if I took enough additional time.

According to data compiled by the Social Security Administration:

  • A man reaching age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 83.
  • A woman turning age 65 today can expect to live, on average, until age 85.

And those are just averages. About one out of every four 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and one out of 10 will live past age 95.

Will Iowans do their fair share?

As we work to avoid the fiscal cliff and solve our federal budget deficit problem, we need to ask what we Iowans are willing to give up.  We cannot solve our deficit problem by only increasing taxes on other people or by only cutting other people’s benefits.  Here is a partial list of federal expenditures that benefit Iowans: crop insurance subsidies, ethanol subsidies, wind power subsidies, biodiesel subsidies, Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, National Guard installations, Silos and Smokestacks national park funding, Harkin grants, student loan subsidies, mortgage interest deductions.
Will you do your part?  What cut to your current or future benefits are you willing to accept?  If we don’t solve our deficit spending problem, sooner or later we will end up with a crisis like Greece. Contact your Senators and Representative and tell him which of your benefits you are will to have cut.